From time to time, all of us can feel upset, lonely, stressed or down – especially if things have not gone as planned or a person has experienced a difficult event like a bereavement or loss of someone close to them. Having these feelings is quite normal and usually over time, they pass and people get on with their lives.
It’s when the feelings last for more than a couple of weeks, or start to take over and interfere with a person’s life, affecting their social life and both their physical and mental health, that they may have what is called clinical depression.
This is when a person can experience a number of things including:
- persistent low mood
- being unable to sleep or concentrate
- feeling hopeless
- withdrawal from friends or school
- feeling unable to cope with even the smallest daily tasks or decisions
People with clinical depression can also be very restless or agitated; they may be into self-harm and some start to think about suicide. This sort of depression is recognised as a serious mental health disorder and help from a GP or mental health professional is needed…but there are also many things that you can do to support someone who is feeling depressed which you will find below.
How common is depression?
Depression can affect anyone regardless of their age, race, ethnic or economic group. It can occur suddenly in response to a crisis or trauma or it can emerge more slowly over time for no obvious reason.
It’s been estimated that around 1 in 5 people in the general population are depressed at any one time.
For young people, this figure is 1 in 8.
These findings challenge a widespread myth that young people don’t get ‘real’ depression, they are just ‘being moody’ and just need to ‘get on with it’ – this clearly isn’t true and they may need help.
Some people may also only experience an episode of depression once, they recover and it never happens again whereas others may experience a number of episodes. What it is important to remember is that in both cases, depression is treatable.
It can feel very daunting to ask for help if you’re feeling unwell and depression, which can sap energy and destroy self-esteem, can make it even harder to ask for help.
By giving uncritical support and showing your friendship, you can help your friend or sibling to feel more confident to seek help. You could go with them to talk to a trusted adult, who could be a family member, or someone at school or college, (e.g. the nurse, counsellor or year tutor) or their GP.
Find out more about where someone can access support for their mental health
If your friend or sibling is reluctant to seek help and you are worried that they may be in some way at risk, you should explain to them that you need to share your concerns and get advice from a trusted adult. Although this can feel difficult, this is not betraying a trust and in fact, many young people report that having a friend do this can help them to feel more safe and supported.
Sometimes a person may not realise that they are depressed, they may be worried that they are imagining things and so they don’t ask for help. As a friend or sibling, if you are worried, a helpful start is to check out whether they have had any of the symptoms mentioned above (e.g. low mood, feeling hopeless, loss of interest in things they used to enjoy for longer than two weeks).
Another myth about depression is that talking about it only makes it worse. In fact, encouraging your friend or sibling to talk through how they are feeling, can help them to feel less on their own and can help them to recognise that they need professional help.
Possible ways you can help a friend or sibling who is depressed
People with depression can feel that no one will understand how they feel or they may be worried that people will in some way judge them. It’s very important to understand that depression is not a weakness, it is a recognised health disorder with recommended treatments.
Reassuring your friend or sibling that you do not think they are weak, being sympathetic and patient, making time to really listen to them, are all things that can help.
People who are depressed can easily become isolated; they may find it difficult to be sociable and by withdrawing, lose their confidence which can make them feel even worse.
Offering to go out with your friend or sibling – to meet up with other friends, or perhaps to see a film – can help to reduce their feelings of isolation and help them to maintain or build up their social networks.
There is some evidence that exercise can help in the treatment of depression, also that a good diet and eating healthily can help to counter the symptoms of depression.
Some people find that learning some relaxation techniques can be useful, especially if the depression is also making them feel anxious (this is quite a common problem alongside depression) … or perhaps you could join an exercise class together or try out a new sport you both are interested in…. and cooking together can be a helpful way of creating a safe time for talking alongside actually producing a meal!
Things to avoid?
- Telling your friend or relative to ‘cheer up’ or ‘snap out of it’ or to ‘pull yourself together’
- Assuming that someone else will take action. If you are concerned that your friend or relative is clinically depressed, it’s important to try and check out with them how they feel and whether they have sought help
- Downplaying how they feel comments to the effect of ‘well, that’s life’ or ‘everyone has stress’ can seem critical or that you are unsympathetic about how your friend or relative is feeling
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